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Conceiving Parenthood
American Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproduction
POD; Published: 10/23/2016
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7516-7
Price: $ 40.50
460 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 6 x 9
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Genetic manipulation. Designer babies. Prenatal screening. The genomic revolution. Cutting-edge issues in reproductive bioethics grab our attention almost daily, prompting strong responses from various sides. As science advances and comes ever closer to "perfect" procreation and "perfectible" babies, controversy has become a constant in bioethical discussion.

Amy Laura Hall seeks out the genesis of such issues rather than trying to divine their future. Her disturbing finding is that mainline Protestantism is complicit in the history and development of reproductive biotechnology. Through analysis of nearly 150 images of the family in the mainstream media in the twentieth century, Hall argues that, by downplaying the gratuity of grace, middle-class Protestants, with American culture at large, have implicitly endorsed the idea of justification through responsibly planned procreation. A tradition that should have welcomed all persons equally has instead fostered a culture of "carefully delineated, racially encoded domesticity."

The research in Conceiving Parenthood is new, the theory provocative, and the illustrations exceptional. The book is replete with photos and advertisements from popular magazines from the 1930s through the 1950s—Parents', Ladies' Home Journal, National Geographic, and so on. Hall's analysis of these ads is startling. Her goal, however, is not simply to startle readers but to encourage new conversations within communities of faith&mdashconversations enabling individuals, couples, congregations, even entire neighborhoods to conceive of parenthood in ways that make room for families and children who are deemed to be outside the proper purview of the right sorts of families.
American Studies
“A thoughtful and provocative study on this history of procreation and parenthood in twentieth-century America.”
Christian Scholar's Review
“Amy Laura Hall does a masterful job of deconstructing the established ideal of the family. As a result, she communicates clearly that theology is not simply an academic exercise but an exercise also definitive of lived Christianity. Hall's work may not offer all that needs to be written in relation to the family. Regardless, she has cleared the space and charted a path for others to follow.”
Church History
“All readers—whether they are historians, Protestants, or anything else—will find Amy Laura Hall's book an immensely compassionate approach to the woes of modern family life. As we all worry and sigh over wayward children and dwindling retirement accounts, Conceiving Parenthood is a reminder that happiness comes from many sources, and that most of them come to us small and unexpected.”
Mid-America Journal of Theology
“This work is a moral documentary, a tale both chilling and courageous. Chilling, because its story belongs, just as much as slavery and Japanese internment camps, to the identity of America—and sadder still, to the identity of mainline liberal American Protestantism. This book is courageous, because it is the work of a tenured, academic, pro-life, feminist, whistle blower.”
Modern Theology
“[Conceiving Parenthood] speaks primarily to American Protestant experience (particularly Methodism), but if readers have been attentive to the arguments presented, they should suspect that perhaps there are ways in which their own churches and denominations are complicit with the world, in ways as yet unseen and unknown, against the gospel message of Christ. If we care about naming and uncovering the sins in our midst, we will hopefully take to heart Hall's method and message.”
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
“With extensive illustrations and documentation, Conceiving Parenthood warns that not long ago there were influential mainline Protestants who were willing to trade the gospel’s call to inclusive care for an excluding technological fix. Mark Twain suggested that history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Hall’s concern is well taken: the history she describes so vividly should not be repeated or rhymed, especially by Christians called to care for ‘the least of these.’”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Hall, who teaches theological ethics at Duke, combines perceptive reading with stirring criticism of the corporate-inspired family ideals that have come to pervade the American Christian mainstream.”
Religious Studies Review
“By providing both historical background and nuanced ethical analysis, written from the perspective of an academic, church leader, and mother, and in a lively, engaging style, Hall offers a book of interest to a wide audience, including historians, bioethicists, theologians, and lay Christians (especially parents), and readers can expect to be surprised, provoked, and challenged.”
Stone-Campbell Journal
“Hall's powerful work would be a welcome addition to the readings of upper division undergraduate or seminary classes in ethics, family studies, or even American church history. This volume establishes Hall as a Christian ethicist who speaks with a voice well worth hearing.”
Studies in Christian Ethics
“Hall’s book should prove sobering for all theologians engaged in bioethics, as well as Christian parents.”
The American Historical Review
“Hall's book is a powerful work of interdisciplinary historical and cultural analysis that is informed by theological ethics. Her astute deconstructions of images are especially compelling and will be of significance to students of cultural history. Her reach is broad, and although it occasionally leaves the reader wishing for a more sustained chronological narrative, her book is an important contribution to the ongoing study of eugenics, domesticity, and the history of the family. Hall's work shows just how powerful and pernicious have been the forces encouraging Americans to engage in quality control of their own and others' children.”
The Christian Century
“Those familiar with Amy Laura Hall’s work will recognize in Conceiving Parenthood her characteristic thoroughness, fairness, careful research and abiding concern for the history and contemporary realities of mainline American Protestantism—especially Methodism, her own tradition.”
The Conrad Grebel Review
“The narrative throughout Conceiving Parenthood is provocative and thorough. The book teems with illustrations and advertisements from magazines from the last century and this one, and all are accompanied by painstakingly close readings.”
The Heythrop Journal
“This book is to be welcomed, not just for being the elegantly written and enlightening treatise it is, but for another reason too. The question of the regulation of birth is one that many people regard as settled. The idea that we can choose what children to have and when, and indeed what type of children to have, seems to be beyond dispute; but just as these assumptions seem so firm, here comes a book that blows the foundations of these assumptions apart, for it forces us to question how such assumptions can be reconciled with any Christianity worthy of the name. For that reason, quite apart from its intrinsic worth, this book deserves to be widely read.”
The Journal of American History
“Amy Laura Hall's account of ‘the spirit of reproduction’ is a valuable monograph in cultural history and a contribution to Christian social ethics.”
The Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics
“Hall achieves an incisive and disturbing critique of American family culture that opens up bold new directions for theological ethical scholarship in the future.”
Theology Today
“This work offers a fascinating look at popular social and religious culture related to American childrearing in the twentieth century.”